Natural Foods Merchandiser

Details of S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Status: Passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Nov. 18, 2009

Sponsor: Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Full Text: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

What’s next: Will be presented to the full Senate for floor debate in early 2010

What it does: As the Organic Farmers Action Network said Nov. 12, “S. 510 includes several key reforms that would put real teeth into federal regulation of large-scale food-processing corporations to better protect consumers.” S. 510’s unique provisions include:

  • An $825 million food safety allocation in 2010

  • More field staff

  • Biannual facility registration

  • Review of food-borne health data every two years to determine the most significant contaminants

  • Provisions for intentional contamination (i.e., food sabotage)

Retailer know-how: Organic farming advocates hope the Senate bill will impose a “one up/one down” traceability requirement for small operators that sell directly to customers. In the mass conventional food business, “sometimes the end vendor has no idea where the peanuts in the granola bar came from,” says Aimee Witteman, executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “But not everyone is selling into those huge supply chains.”

Seattle plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Marler, who represents people sickened by food, agrees that a local/national distinction makes more sense than organic/not organic. “You should not get a free pass just because you’re organic. If you want to put your product in the [national] stream of commerce, you have to play by the same rules.”

Other organic- and family farm-friendly positions advocated by NSAC and others are included in the Senate markup, according to Witteman. The Food and Drug Administration would be required to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on produce standards, specifically including the National Organic Program. The proposed bill also instructs the FDA to create rules for produce farmers that take farm size, biodiversity and established organic practices and standards into account. In addition, the FDA would be instructed to make crops that have been associated with food-borne illness a higher priority as it begins implementation.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced a separate proposal to create a USDA food safety training and technical assistance program for producers. The Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758) could be included as an amendment to S. 510 when it comes to the floor, Witteman said.

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